As on any cruise worth its salt, one of the greatest pleasures aboard Oceania Cruises’ ship Marina is simply soaking up the good life. In fact, it is more classy private club than cruise ship – with an air of sophisticated elegance running through from bow to stern, whether it is the neon-pink Casino Bar dotted with Swarovski-studded bar stools, the omnipresent eye-catching artwork, the plush Balinese day beds by the pool, the nine gourmet restaurants, or the ship’s glitzy centrepiece: a grand stairway by French crystal designers Lalique. Suffice to say, you could very easily spend the entire 12-night Baltic sailing simply eating, drinking and reclining.
But this is a cruise with a difference. The latest in a raft of so-called “enrichment cruises”, this voyage isn’t just about relaxation – it’s about coming back improved: your skillset swelled, your grey cells rejuvenated, your talents cultivated. But mightn’t it all feel a bit too much like hard work?
Eager to put this ethos to the test, I soon found myself surrounded by a glorious mess, a sea of colour, with rainbow-hued paints dripping wildly from my artist’s canvas – which I had transformed into a swirling vortex of vivid turquoise shades – as our teacher, on-board artist-in-residence Andre, reassured his class of 12 keen-but-green budding Picassos. “You’re doing just fine,” he said encouragingly as he dashed between us offering creative support.
We were sitting around a vast table strewn with paint bottles, brushes and other artistic accoutrements during a complimentary painting class in the purpose-built Artist Loft on Marina – one of only two such studios on any mainstream cruise ship; the other of which is on Marina’s sister, Riviera.
The temptation to splurge and squirt every one of the colours was irresistible and my abstract creation soon took on a life of its own, as I tipped the canvas this way and that, watching the paints meld and flood with childlike glee. I was utterly absorbed, and very sorry when our session came to an end and the canvasses were put aside to dry. My efforts may have been enough to make Old Masters weep, but I soon had more classes booked in, determined to brush up on my technique.
Culinary goddess incoming
But time enough for that later – first, it was on to the culinary centre, just a few paces from the Artist Loft, to awaken my latent culinary goddess. Under the watchful eye of chef Noelle, the class recreated well-loved dishes from Marina’s popular Asian fusion restaurant, Red Ginger – my favourite – including its signature miso-glazed sea bass and lobster pad Thai (Oceania has a reputation as the “foodie’s cruise line”, and it is certainly deserved).
A first glance at the list of ingredients was rather daunting, but with Noelle’s clear, expert tutelage, we were soon exuberantly cooking up a storm (confidence aided by the crisp glass of rosé included in the £89-per-person charge), and by the close of our two-hour class, I had not only whipped up a glorious feast, but learnt some handy tips, too. But the enrichment options don’t end with hobby enhancing. Oceania also offers what is termed the OLife Series, a selection of lectures, quizzes and guest-speaker sessions – usually themed to complement the voyage so, in this case, addressing such topics as the Vikings and Norse gods.
Curious shore excursions
The enrichment philosophy is also evident in the comprehensive selection of shore excursions, with active biking and kayaking both on offer, plus exclusive, small-group options and Select Tours offering special or unique experiences.
Curious about the latter, I joined a tour to the gothic German city of Lubeck – home of the famed Lubeck marzipan – and enthusiastically absorbed historic trivia from our affable, informative and – for maximum entertainment value – costumed guide as we pottered about the city’s cobbled streets.
But it was the marvellous three-mile kayaking trip along the breathtakingly tranquil Minija River, near Klaipeda in Lithuania, that really left me buzzing. Lightly damp and utterly exhilarated, I was planning my next outing on the water from the moment I stepped out of the kayak, enriched in mind, body and soul – and not the slightest bit like hard work, after all.
How to do it
A 12-night Baltic sailing on Marina with Oceania Cruises (oceaniacruises.com) costs from £4,169 per person for a veranda stateroom. The price includes return flight, WiFi and a choice of six shore excursions, a beverage package or up to £495 on-board credit. Departs July 11, 2023 from Southampton, including calls at Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Visby and Riga in Latvia.
Cruise yourself interesting
Six holidays to swell your skillset – from classical concerts in Vienna to wine tasting in Thessaloniki.
Musical interlude on the Danube
Waltz along the river that inspired Johann Strauss’s famous Blue Danube composition during this Celebration of Classical Music cruise, which includes a recital at Budapest’s Opera House, a classical concert in Vienna and a visit to Mozart’s birthplace in Salzburg. The one-week sailing from Budapest to Vienna with AmaWaterways costs from £2,383pp, including flights, on Mar 25 2023 (amawaterways.co.uk)
Greek mythology in Santorini
Throw your own pottery creation in Rhodes, sample wines in Thessaloniki and explore the music and mythology of Santorini as part of new Authentic Encounters, launched by boutique line Celestyal Cruises. The small group shore excursions, from £61pp, are offered on Greek and Turkish sailings, with a one-week Idyllic Aegean round-trip voyage from Athens starting at £821pp on Oct 1 (celestyal.com).
Memories in the Mediterranean
Theatrical fans are in for a treat when Elaine Paige brings her stardust to Seabourn Ovation, the ship of which she was named godmother in 2018, for an evening in conversation about her career. An “Evening of Memories with Elaine Paige” features on Seabourn’s Oct 22 voyage from Rome to Barcelona, including calls at Propriano (for Bonifacio), Palma and Sète. From £3,499pp, including flights (seabourn.com).
P-p-pick up a penguin
Study vast colonies of Emperor penguins found in the Bellingshausen Sea, named in honour of the Russian admiral and explorer who discovered Antarctica in 1820, on an expeditionary voyage of the White Continent with French line Ponant. The 15-night round-trip voyage on Le Commandant Charcot from Ushuaia, Argentina, departing Nov 12, costs from £19,490pp (uk.ponant.com).
Gallic gastronomy on the Rhone
This mouth-watering sailing in Provence promises a culinary walking tour through France’s “gastronomic capital” Lyon, chocolate and wine tastings, a cookery class and the chance to visit the wine cellars of Châteauneuf-du-Pape near Avignon.
The seven-night Avalon Waterways cruise from Arles to Chalon-sur-Saône departs Mar 28 2023, from £3,241pp (avalonwaterways.co.uk).
Gardens galore around the UK
Discover Britain’s floral delights on a Noble Caledonia Coastal Gardens sailing visiting Caerhays castle and garden in Cornwall; Tresco’s subtropical Abbey Gardens in the Isles of Scilly; the Italianate Bodnant garden near Llandudno; and Arduaine on Scotland’s Argyll coast. The 10-night voyage from Portsmouth to Oban, departing May 11 2023, costs from £5,095pp (noble-caledonia.co.uk).